Union Watch Highlights

California Public Unions Win Budget Concessions
By Michael B. Marois and James Nash on June 18, 2012
The budget California’s Democratic- controlled Legislature sent to Governor Jerry Brown last week granted concessions to public employee unions even as talks continue on cutting programs for the poor. Democrats removed language that would have authorized the governor to order unpaid days off, known as furloughs, if unions balked at a proposed one-year, 5 percent payroll reduction. The $92 billion spending plan, which counts on higher taxes and cuts in health care and welfare to close a $15.7 billion deficit, also prevents expanded use of private contractors for some government jobs. Unions contributed $76.7 million to California politicians and ballot measures in 2010, when Brown and lawmakers were running, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan group based in Helena, Montana. Labor represented the single largest interest group in terms of contributions that year. (read article)

Right-to-Work Wisconsin?
Emily Ekins, June 18, 2012 Reason
Wisconsin may perhaps be on the road to passing right-to-work legislation. According to a recent Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin residents, 51 percent favor a law in Wisconsin “that would no longer require workers in unionized companies to pay union dues as a condition of employment.” This number is largely unchanged (52 percent) among likely voters. Governor Scott Walker’s controversial Act 10 made paying public union dues voluntary, effectively making union membership also voluntary and public sector employment right-to-work. Now that Walker has survived the recall election, should we expect Wisconsin’s private sector to also move toward the right-to-work column in the near future? Public sector workers are most likely to oppose a right-to-work law in Wisconsin, with 58 percent in opposition; however, 53 percent among private sector workers approve. Others who strongly oppose are those with a post-graduate degrees (57 percent), Occupy Wall Street supporters (56 percent), Democrats (55 percent), and households with union members (53 percent). (read article)

Why Our Unions Need to Leave Politics Behind
By Mark Funkhouser, June 18, 2012, Governing
Even after a long string of losses — Wisconsin’s recall election and the votes on public-sector pensions in San Diego and San Jose being only the most recent — it seems that our public-sector unions still don’t get it. Within the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example, there is now a bitter debate about whether the country’s largest government employees’ union should continue its one-sided political involvement, doling out cash to Democratic causes and candidates. The answer is clearly no. It doesn’t matter how much money unions spend on lobbying and elections. If most Americans don’t belong to a union and don’t have the benefits that unionized workers like AFSCME’s 1.3 million members have, they’re going to vote against the unions, as they did overwhelmingly in San Diego and San Jose and as they are likely to do elsewhere if they are given the chance. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for example, now is threatening to take his pension-reform proposals to the voters if the city council doesn’t give him what he wants. (read article)

Public-Workers’ Union Regroups After Wisconsin to Plot Comeback
By William McQuillen, June 18, 2012, Bloomberg
Leaders of the largest U.S. union of government workers this week will choose a new president amid assaults on bargaining rights from statehouses and growing hostility from voters who view their benefits as an unsustainable expense. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees biannual convention begins in Los Angeles less than two weeks after voters in a pair of California cities approved ballot measures to restructure benefits for city workers and, in Wisconsin, rejected a union-led effort to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. “We need to adjust to the new situation we find ourselves in,” said Henry Bayer, a Chicago-based AFSCME vice president who is chief negotiator for Illinois state employees, said in an interview. “We’ll decide a course of action for the next two years and assess the last two.” In addition to public-sector job cuts and tight state and local government budgets, the union is also facing its first change in leadership in three decades. (read article)

Unions must change to survive
By Keith Chrostowski, June 18, 2012, The Kansas City Star
After the Wisconsin beat-down, an existential wail arose from shattered union leaders, members and their friends. Ritual moaning about the array of forces aligned against labor accompanied second-guessing over tactics and strategy. And why oh why, many cried, did four in 10 union members in Wisconsin vote to retain Republican Gov. Scott Walker? (The labor split extends beyond Wisconsin: In a Gallup Poll released last week, 35 percent of union members favored Mitt Romney for president.) We all know private sector unions are suffering a relentless decline while public-worker unions have been growing. But now public union ranks too could start thinning drastically. In part, blame fiscal realities. Even in Democratic-run California and New York, taxpayers are trying to balance the need for services against earlier commitments to public workers on pay and pensions. But instead of reining in pay and pension obligations at the bargaining table, Walker and other GOP governors are ruthlessly blowing up the foundations of unionism — curtailing collective bargaining rights and automatic dues collection. You can argue over whether public unions should have strong collective bargaining rights in the first place. Even FDR thought they shouldn’t. (read article)

U.S. Unions: Uncivil On Civil Rights
By Harry Alford & F. Vincent Vernuccio, June 17, 2012, Forbes
As union membership in the private sector continues to plummet, organized labor is pursuing desperate measures to reverse its fortunes. For one they are seeking to redefine unionization as a “civil right.” The unions’ case was crystallized in a February 29 New York Times op ed (“A Civil Right to Unionize”), which argued that, “the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination” should be added to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The union partisan authors then try to link the labor movement to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. (read article)

Labor Unions and Public Opinion
By Matthew Yglesias, June 16, 2012, Slate
In the wake of the failed recall of Scott Walker, Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer wrote a stirring from-the-left critique of American labor unions (more or less along the lines of Bob Fitch) that’s prompted a number of interesting responses, relatively few of which grapple with what I think is Henwood’s strongest point: And as much as it hurts to admit this, labor unions just aren’t very popular. In Gallup’s annual poll on confidence in institutions, unions score close to the bottom of the list, barely above big business and HMOs but behind banks. More Americans—42%—would like to see unions have less influence, and just 25% would like to see them have more. Despite a massive financial crisis and a dismal job market, approval of unions is close to an all-time low in the 75 years Gallup has been asking the question. A major reason for this is that twice as many people (68%) think that unions help mostly their members as think they help the broader population (34%). (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

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